By Elyssa Campbell-Barr
Listening and concentration are essential skills for effective learning, but they are skills that take time to develop.
Young children will concentrate for long periods of time if they are interested in what is happening, but can become quickly distracted.
The same thing happens with listening, a child who is engrossed in their play appears to blank you completely when you ask them to put their shoes on, but is immediately alert to the the distant 'nee-nar' of a police car across town.
Lead by example
Set an example by being a good listener yourself.
When your child is talking, try to give them your undivided attention whenever possible. Get down to their level, and make sure there are plenty of times in the day when they don't have to compete with the noise of the TV or the distractions of your phone or computer.
Give praise and attention for good listening
If you frequently find yourself becoming exasperated by a child who never seems to listen, think first about why this might be and praise them when they do follow your instructions first-time.
Some children get into the habit of deliberately ignoring mum or dad because they get more attention when they don't do what you say.
Another strategy is to try using a hand-puppet to give instructions – for example a sleepy teddy for bedtimes or a hungry monster for mealtimes. Children often relate to the puppet in a different way to an adult (even though they may realise that you are operating it) and may be more eager to please it.
Instruct, add, repeat
As your child becomes better at listening and following instructions, give them two or three at once: “Add sugar and flour to the bowl, stir it well and then add some milk.” Ask them to repeat the instructions back to you to help them remember.
Develop young children's listening skills by taking them on a 'hearing hunt'. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood together and get them to tell you everything they hear – birdsong, a car, leaves rustling, a dog barking, an aeroplane.
In the car, listen to story CDs as a change from music. Your child will need to concentrate carefully to follow the tale. If you don't have discs yourself, borrow some from your local library.
Before your child starts school, try to get them used to taking instruction from other adults. This could be in a childcare setting, a sport or dance class, or a rhyme-time or story session at your local library or toddler group.
Listen to the music
Make the most of children's innate interest in music and rhythm to develop their concentration and listening skills. Babies under a year may try to copy a simple clapping rhythm.
For toddlers and pre-schoolers you can make the patterns more complex, add loud and soft sounds, and use percussion instruments too.
With the help of YouTube, you and your child can enjoy any style of music. Dance around the room together to something by a brass band, followed by some hip-hop and then a Viennese waltz.
How do their movements change with the different musical styles? Which one do they like best, and why?
Almost all games require focus and patience, so are perfect for developing children's attentiveness.
Simon Says is good practice for listening carefully and following instructions (try replacing Simon with your child's favourite soft toy or cartoon character).
In Traffic Lights, each colour has a different action – red for stop, orange for walk and green for run. Once your child has mastered these, invent some more of your own.
In Name That Sound, one person wears a blindfold and the other makes household sounds for them to identify – the click of a light-switch, ping of a microwave or slide of the cutlery drawer for instance.
Or try Treasure Hunt, giving simple directions to help your child find a toy or snack.
When you're reading a book or watching a programme together, test how carefully your child is paying attention by asking them to recount the story or tell you what they think might happen next.
Studies suggest that having a balanced and nutritious diet, drinking enough fluids, and getting plenty fresh air and exercise may all help children to concentrate better.
Frenetic TV shows and computer games may have a negative impact, so try alternatives such as puzzles, drawing, building blocks or play-dough.
You might think that your toddler never sits still and pays no attention to you – whereas in fact they're too busy exploring the world and exercising their independence to stay focused for very long - it’s perfectly normal!
But if you continue to have concerns about your child's attention-span and ability to concentrate, discuss them with a professional such as your health visitor, GP or childcarer.